Autonomy refers to the ability of an individual to construct his or her own principles of existence and codes of interaction (Auto being the 'self' in its reflexive dimension and nomos is the ancient Greek for law, rule or convention). In short, it carries a meaning quite different to that which is commonly bandied about in 'political' and economic discourse. Our vulgar conception of autonomy is in truth closer to that of 'independence' or 'self-sufficiency', something often equated with a child's development or designated as an admirable quality to have in the workforce and as an individual in general. This unfortunate semantic distortion is rooted in the liberal conception of the individual and of political action. The founders of political liberalism believed that autonomy characterized the adult state in which the individual is no longer dependent on others and is capable of satisfying his needs on his own.
The dissociation (that liberals pride themselves on making) between individual and society does not create emancipated or autonomous individuals, but creates parcelized individuals, who are fragmented and isolated making them vulnerable to coercive power emanating from extra-social structures (e.g: the Market, organized religion, technocrats...). Extra-social structures are those who lack reflexive action and that instrumentalize society by exploiting it as a resource in order to achieve dehuminizing goal. Parcelized individuals are participants of a network and suffer from an inter-relational deficiency. They believe themselves to be free, but are in truth nothing more than operatives.
What the munificent institutions of 'democracy' and 'freedom' preach is that individuals becomes free by extrapolating themselves as much as possible from society and that society is a necessary evil that must be reduced to its most harmless sediment. Margaret Thatcher expressed this frightening obsession in the most eloquent of ways (as always) : "There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families."
Society creates context and yet receives context. Society determines meaning and yet receives meaning. Society is inter-subjective, meaning that it emanates from the interaction of the subjective experiences of its members, and yet, it cannot be reduced to the sum of these individual experiences. The circular dynamic between society and individual gives the relation its indeterminate nature which in turn allows for critical interpretation. It is indetermination that constitutes the foundation of human freedom and any attempt to bracket the human condition to arbitrary theories of determination is an act of enslavement and exploitation. (A future post will be dedicated to the subject of indetermination). What we are witnessing today, in our society, is not the individual's liberation from society (this being the official liberal and capitalist discourse), but the progressive weakening and isolation of the individual by the destruction of society, or rather of social consciousness (this being the veritable liberal and capitalistic action). Parcelized individuals are tragically dependant. Dependant because they are neither reflexive, nor transformational, nor inter-subjective, as we shall see. And tragically because they see themselves as free, when this vision is rooted in their blindness.
The answer, or, to use a more clinical vocabulary, the cure, to the plight of the parcelized individual lies in the autonomous actor.
Autonomy, in its etymological source, has three constitutive facets.
1. Autonomy is reflexive : the autonomous actor is conscious of his or her autonomy and is able to elucidate it. The actor has both an external and internal perspective on his or her conventions and actions and is aware of the limits inherent to these.
2. Autonomy is transformational : by constructing rules and laws that are reflexive, the autonomous actor transforms reality. By conventionalizing reality, the actor deforms it. This is an act of individual appropriation, for reality declines itself to the number of autonomous actors.
3. Autonomy is inter-subjective : the autonomous actor constructs reflexive conventions by interacting with other subjective realities, thus creating relations of interdependence (and not of dependence as in the configuration of a heteronomous society of parcelized individuals). The construction of conventions implies a coherent structurating of reality based on communication; being autonomous does not, therefore, entail everyobody doing their own thing.
If individuals are to be autonomous actors then society must be an autonomous stage, and a stage must be built by actors. Autonomy finds its vitality in this indetermination and is, theoretically, what gives vitality and originality to democracy. A true democracy is reflexive, transformational and inter-subjective. Its constitutive dynamic is the circular relation between individual and society, a relation in which extra-social coercion and structures of dependency are absent. In this light, it is glaringly evident that ‘democratic’ actors are a myriad of smiling puppets and that liberal capitalism is the puppet master.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Note: Rather than talk about freedom, I prefer exploring the concept of autonomy, which for reasons that I will expose in the next political post, is more pertinent and productive. However, this post, and others to follow, will focus on freedom because of the overwhelming aura it has in the organization of our collective values and norms and because of its omnipresence in political debate.
Repeat something enough times and it becomes true...It appears as though it is our mere ability to declare ourselves free that makes us free. However, regardless of what the clergy of representative democracy preaches and the sooth sayers of capitalism prophesize, freedom, today, in our society, has lost its meaning.
Political freedom implies constitution of choices (constitutive freedom), not merely the selection from prefabricated choices (relegated or permitted freedom). Creating our own choices is not enough though. We must then have the means to transform theory into action. It is transformative action that creates empowered and responsible citizens. In a time when the only political act we, as citizens, make is to vote, then our transformative power is merely residual. We are convinced that by voting we guarantee our freedom, however, this emblematic act is only a punctual delegation of power in which we abandon defining elements of our sovereignty. Representative democracy has confused power and sovereignty to the detriment of citizen freedom. We believe that all we are doing is delegating the exercise of power to lawmakers and governements and that we are still the sovereign arbiters of that power, when in truth we are simply choosing the devolution of power, but not longer question its legitimacy, nature or meaning.
I do not claim that political freedom is an absolute to which we must aspire, it is neither possible, desirable or coherent, and I maintain that the debate on the limits of freedom is vital. What I cannot tolerate however, is a debate and fervor about an ideal that has no meaning, that has become utterly vacuous...the political slogans that remind us daily of our 'freedom' are prime examples of how party-based politics distort semantic substance. Whenever an ideal is used and abused to justify any given ideology one word comes to mind : propaganda or as 'democratic' institutions would call it : public relations. A concept or ideal can be a means to achieve ends that are contrary to those of the very same concept/ideal. This is what has happed to the word freedom... A tool and an instrument that has built the invisible walls around our political audacity and a battlecry that rings hollow in the abandoned hallways of citizen activism.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Having a conversion with an early morning metro is a most impossible thing to do. Of course, a rational and straight thinking man (straight is sometimes very backwards) would inform me that communicating with underground snakes is no simple task and that I should therefore not be surprised that it is (mostly) impossible. I, however, pride myself on thinking in curves and zigzags, great circumventions that have the randomness of improbable statistics and, this morning, the fact that it was mostly impossible for me to communicate with the chrome tunnel marauder was at the very least disconcerting. Unsettling! I severely reject the assumption and subsequent assertion that all fast moving worms look alike, either because speed blurs their differences or because in the entrails of the city everything looks alike. Preposterous! It not only surprises me that so many human entities have such poor eyesight, but it also worries me that nobody has (so far) tried communicating with an early morning metro. I myself have not tried. And that is the only reason I consider it mostly impossible. I'm afraid that if I do try, I will learn some very disheartening news. Nonsense!
Here and there,
Whispers echo, morning shuffles,
Heavy feet and heavy tongues,
Here and there.
Eyes weak as sleep seeps
In tunnels of air.
Here and there,
Vacant lot faces
Yawn and sigh.
Thump, thump... thump, thump
A heartbeat or
Monday, October 12, 2009
Dust has gathered across my skin. No, not dust. Sun-struck dirt or perhaps ash from the nearest volcano. How should I know what reaches into my pores and what makes my sweat smell strange? I’ve been walking so long, only a week in fact, long enough to count off seven days without ever repeating one. The road has that familiar feeling to it, I know it because my body remembers it. I’ve walked it so many times before, but I see none of the familiar landmarks. I know what you’ll say, the volcano’s ash has covered up all that is recognizable to me. That is true, except that I have never seen a volcano around here. Perhaps next week, when the days will have started to repeat themselves. You might have also said that it has been too long since I last dragged my feet across this dusty, dirty, ashen road and that my memory is as dusty, dirty and ashen as the road itself. I could not tell you that you are wrong. Yes why not? It scarcely matters now what I remember, I may forget it all tomorrow, for that is the day when things start anew. Anyway or in any case, I find it funny that the horizon has no end, it never disappears so it can never appear. It is always there. Does it burn beneath the falling star? I don’t see any flames, and yet, the heat and colors of fire gush out of it, coating the sky in sacrificial torment. The star may be rising, but in the way it plunges downward it raises blood upward. Speaking of blood, it is said by voices I have never heard, that I am fleeing towards that horizon, that falling star, or rising star, because, behind me, I have left a trail of blood that seeks vengeance upon me. The voices, in truth, are mine, at least they sound like that. And they have convinced me that behind me is the horror of my shadow, that in that shadow all is fallen, castrated and burnt. It makes me sound like a hoarding, pillaging army of men. But I, as you may have surmised, am but one man.
I think I will start by welcoming those who are not reading my blog. Since they are mostly everybody, it would appear to make more sense, it also confirms the fact that I am, for the moment, writing to myself. This is neither here nor there for. I'm not expecting or aspiring to anything with this blog, it is simply a way for me, a young writer, to give myself a little structure and rhythm that I am, so far, missing. By nature, a blog is public, which should help me create pieces of a certain quality and regularity. This is first and foremost a reflexive tool that I wish to experiment with, so I plan to post a little bit of everything : poems, short stories, thoughts, excerpts of my novel, tangents... From family and friends who will be forced to read me, to those Web marauders who may happen to fall on my words, I hope that, for your sake, this will be source of some minor enjoyment.